Saturday, February 11, 2017

Justice League Dark Review

The latest of the DC Animated films has finally been released and it's probably the strangest of them all in terms of premise. It's placement in the continuity of the universe is also a bit head-tilting, but that's not the real concern here. No, this movie instead focuses on the Justice League Dark, a group of magic-based heroes and anti-heroes that eventually coalesce into a "team" to ward off dark magical foes. Why's it so strange? Well who would've thought this movie would actually be the best of the recent animated films?
And I'm totally serious. I think this is arguably the best of the bunch since Flashpoint: Paradox and maybe even better than that (since Flashpoint: Paradox is based off of a pretty average comic to begin with). The only stiff competition against JLD is Batman: Bad Blood since it focuses so heavily on the ever-awesome Dick Grayson and Batwoman, with a small tease of Barbara Gordon's Batgirl to feature in one of these films soon.

This movie has killer animation, great characters, awesome action beats, a neat soundtrack, and really made me want to look into the Justice League Dark a bit more. I'd heard of the team before, mostly through reading my collection of "Trinity War," but now I want to go back and check out some of the earlier material.

It seems like great movies are based off of minor characters most of the time. Look at the recent Guardians of the Galaxy. Rocket Raccoon and Star-Lord are practically household names now, but before 2014 even comic book fans didn't really care for the Guardians. JLD takes the lower-brow characters and really lets them shine and shows why they're important to the overall DCU.

Zatanna was well known already for her appearances on Justice League: Unlimited and various Batman-related television, and Constantine has seen recent successes with his NBC show and awesome cameo on Arrow. We'll get into these two later.

I suppose it's best to get the animation out of the way first because it's the easiest to talk about: it's pretty awesome. Just like the rest of these DC Animated Films, including The Killing Joke, the animation in these movies has been incredibly fluid and vibrant. This movie in particular had to try and lean this animation for a more stylistic and darker edge to match the characters, and managed to do just that.

The fight scenes in these animated films are usually pretty good, but here they really shine. The magic battles in the third act are incredibly epic and the animation here is incredible. It makes me want to see more big-budget 2-D animation, and on a big-screen no less. Every character looks good in battle, not just skilled combatants like Batman or Zatanna. There was some good uses of CGI in the film, too, that I hardly even picked up on.

Even the music in the film worked pretty well, which was surprising. Normally it's typical action scores that aren't entirely memorable, but here they had to match the score to the tone and style of the characters and it turned out a pretty solid blend. For some reason they added dubstep to some of the songs that tried to make it "edgy" but thankfully it doesn't come up all that often in the film.

Sadly, the weakest part of the film is the story. This movie is really just a means to get audiences in-the-know about who some of these characters are and spends a good amount of time establishing their backstories. Some of them are pulled off well, like Zatanna's or Etrigan's, but Deadman's is just around so that we could get some exposition. The film relies on exposition in quite a few bits, but you kind of have to excuse it partially because this is the first time we're ever meeting these characters.

Although, I wish they'd gone the route that they did with Zatanna and Constantine. Yeah, I know that they're popular among the comic book crowd, but their backstories came out naturally as a part of their interactions with one another. Deadman's could've been the same. Etrigan's was plot-related, so that's fine, but his scene did go on for a bit longer than I think it needed to.

One thing that could've used a bit of explanation is the new Justice League's roster. Shazam and Hal Jordan are mysteriously gone, and instead we've got John Stewart and Hawkman. Personally, I don't mind the change, but it was just so random and they moved on like it's normal. Perhaps they're establishing a "revolving door" of sorts for the League, but if it's based on the New 52 (which it is straying away from) then it should be the solid super seven.

Also, when are they going to let Superman drop his attitude? I think we've only seen him close to the normal Superman in one of these movies, and even then he wound up getting possessed by a demon anyway. He has a few moments in his movie where you swear he sounded like Batman...and as Batman v. Superman showed us, that's not a very good thing.

But I suppose to make up for that, we do have a really good amount of comedy in this movie. Batman has a really good running gag where every time someone does something he's iffy on, he just stands there and goes "nnnn" and it's hilarious. Constantine is also pretty funny, and Deadman gets in a few laughs as well.

Mixed in with the laughs are several "holy crap that was AWESOME moments" and those are often done by Zatanna. There was an incredible moment near the end that gave me chills. It was so well directed that I couldn't help but just laugh out of sheer shock. The fighting in general, like I said, leads to a ton of awesome moments, too.

Some may question Batman's placement in the movie, and there were times where I thought, "Wonder Woman has experienced magic, why isn't she here?" But I realized it was so Batman could play the part of the audience, whereby he gained all of this knowledge as we did. It's an interesting move and actually helps to make Batman relateable to the viewer. Plus, again, he's good for comedy.

Deadman sort of gets the shaft in terms of overall character placement, but he's a funny guy and you do get his full backstory. He's in the movie plenty enough and his powers are shown off and well-executed, but he feels a bit more like a plot device than anything else.

Jason Blood/ Etrigan, by the end of the film, does go through a pretty solid character arc that I didn't see coming, but I was happy it did by the end. It made me hopeful to see Etrigin more if they can get a sequel to this going (which I hope they do). At first he was just some smarmy dude that hung out with Constantine, but by the end I found him really likable and even he had a crazy cool moment at the end.

Zatanna is the character that probably walked away standing out the most in my mind, or at least more than I expected. She really shows off how strong she is, and that she does belong alongside such mega-powers like Superman and Wonder Woman. She's been a member of the League in the comics for a reason, folks. She goes through a more subtle character arc, sort of piggybacking off of Constantine, but is a strong and independent character on her own as well. Her role essentially functioned as a translator for Batman. She sadly doesn't figure much into the end battle, but I think it's to tell the audience that she's too overpowered and that the fight would've been over had she been more involved. I hope she appears in more Justice League adventures, not just limited to the JLD.

Constantine is the best part of the movie bar-none and it's all thanks to Matt Ryan returning to play the character. He was absolutely phenomenal as Constantine, nailing all of his lines and just blending with the character so well. You can tell he's having a blast as Constantine and he really fits the role just so well. Constantine is conniving, charming, funny, absolutely brilliant, and gets a good arc about learning to accept teamwork and getting humbled by the end. His schemes are well thought out, despite his prattling about how he doesn't know what he's doing, and he shows that he really is an expert in magic, of both the normal and dark variety.

My biggest gripe with the movie isn't even a problem with the film itself but rather the rating. Why is this rated R? Sure there are some "intense" sequences but those definitely warrant a PG-13, not R.It's not even a "cool" R or anything like that. It's just "R" so that adults will think it's a mature animated movie for them and they'll pick it up, except it isn't. So dumb.

If you haven't been checking out the DC Animated Universe, you definitely should. Lord knows it's better than the live action one right now, but it also has some pretty good flicks, and this is the best of them. You don't even have to know about any of the characters in the movie to start watching, you'll be super familiar with them by the end. I think the movie did it's job in that respect.

If you're looking for a movie with an incredibly deep story, you may not find it here, but you will find great characters interacting very well on screen together in beautiful animation, and you'll overall have a good time while you're watching.

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